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Exclusive Interview: Laurie Berkner Discusses Creating Songs That Matter For Children

Recently, BabyGaga was delighted to speak with children's recording artist Laurie Berkner about the path that led her to where she is today – a successful career singing songs that bring smiles to thousands of children's faces and brighten their spirits each day.

Her latest album Waiting for the Elevator, which will be released on October 4, features songs about learning emotional, practical and life skills!

The Laurie Berkner Band has a user-friendly website where parents can find access to the band's wonderful YouTube channel. Laurie and her great crew work hard to bring new content to the forefront for the kiddos every first Friday so be sure to subscribe and mark those calendars! Every other Friday new content is released.

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Also on the website, podcast-loving parents will find an audio series that will knock their little one's socks off. Laurie Berkner's Song and Story Kitchen with Thelonious Pig, her adorable piggy sidekick offers over 5 hours of listening time while Laurie and Thelonious prepare a recipe and tell a story all at the same time!

While you're on the site, you can also learn more about Laurie and while we're on the subject of Laurie, let's just jump right into the interview with this very talented and charming lady!

BabyGaga (BG): Laurie, how would you best describe your music? More upbeat and fun or soothing or relaxing - or a mix of both?

Laurie Berkner (LB): Definitely a mix of both. I have an entire lullaby album that is soothing and relaxing and then I have many songs based in movement so they are literally songs trying to get you up.

BG: What do you love best about singing for children? What is it about it that keeps you doing it?

LB: It’s so freeing and inspiring. I think the main thing is when I sing with kids I feel like they have such a natural and organic response and that feeling just makes me happy. I feel like that experience with them makes me happy, that I can be part of it. I love their energy, their pure joy.

BG: You have a very interesting backstory in that you didn’t dive right into children’s music. You started as a rock singer and even formed your own rock band called Red Onion. What experiences, if any, can you draw on from your rock days to your current career and are there any similarities?

LB: *laughs* Let’s see… there are just so many different. things. One thing is that in both situations I really enjoyed writing my own music. There are also differences. When I was doing it for adults, I had to ask all of my friends to show up for my shows and I was working so hard whereas with kids’ music, it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like pleasure and there seems to be a true give and take of the experience.

BG: Are there parallels in audiences of the rock work versus the childrens’ music world (rowdiness, etc.) that our readers might not know about?

LB: Totally. I’ll tell you a story. This was not when I was with Red Onion, but when I was with Lois Lane, an all-female cover band. We were playing at Killington, a ski resort and this is part of how I got to be friends with Susie, my keyboardist. I had auditioned and gotten into the band and we needed another member so I asked her if she wanted to join as we were getting tobe friends and I knew she was a musician. So she was in that band and her niece and nephew lived up in Vermont and they came to our Lois Lane show at the ski lodge and her brother had said, “I know you’re doing grown-up covers for people who are stopping in here and drinking in between slope runs but could you just play “We Are The Dinosaurs” for my kids just for fun?” There wasn’t that many people in there at that time but there was one giant table full of guys who had come as part of a fraternity on a vacation together. When we played “We Are The Dinosaurs”, those guys got up and marched around and swung their beers. They loved it so much! We played there a few times over the season and when we came back, they all came back and asked us to play “We Are The Dinosaurs” again.

So I just realized that there’s that experience of people wanting to express themselves and have fun with music and move with a song that’s really easy to learn right away and kind of encourages people to have different feelings. With a dinosaur, you can feel big and powerful and angry. I feel like everybody kind of wants those same things. Audiences are not so different in that way.

BG: Many of your songs involve movement and participation from your young audience. Why is this important to you?

LB: Music does not just have one way of being expressed. There’s an active participation part of it that often expands the experience. It doesn’t have to be there every time but I think that for kids, being able to move their hands or dance is  integral to the experience. Kids are so connected to movement. My age group is around 4 years old so if you’ve only been alive for 4 years, you’ve been picking things up since about 3 months old and you’ve been squirming around since you’ve been born but you haven't said words until you’re a toddler. So if you’re 4 years old and for only 2 and half of those years you’ve been speaking words like song lyrics, while they are super important because we’re all learning and listening, I think the natural tendency of just moving the body is really important. That energy needs to be integrated into everything.

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BG: How do you get inspiration for your songs?

LB: Lots of different ways. Some of the ways are certainly by listening to what kids say and then if I connect to that… for example, I wrote a song called “Song in my Tummy” and literally that was because I had a child say to me, “Laurie, I have a song in my tummy and it wants to come out!” That was the most beautiful, perfect thing to say. So I’m listening all the time and seeing what I connect with. And I’m also thinking a lot about things that I was drawn to or things that may have sparked excitement in me when I was a kid or anything that I’m still connected to as an adult that may have rooted from when I was a child. Also things that I wished I had learned, heard or had support around when I was younger. I write a lot of songs for adults and children that I hope other people will connect to.

BG: As a child yourself, did you have a favorite singing group or singer?

LB: It changed a lot over my different ages. When I was the ages of the kids that I write for, I listened to a lot of musicals so I really was quite taken by Julie Andrews, “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins” and I think she was on Broadway doing “My Fair Lady.” Musicals were a very big part of my childhood as well as folk music.

BG: We’ve heard that you have a very interesting “full circle” story involving Marlo Thomas. Can you tell us about that?

LB: Sure. When I was a little older than my age group so I would say, 7 or 8, I was in love with “Free to Be… You and Me” [children’s album by Marlo Thomas & friends]. The first album was released in 1972. I always had this fantasy that I would be like Marlo Thomas in that I would maintain this connection with kids and then I think around 15 years ago, 2003 or 2004 or so I got involved with her when she was doing a follow up to “Free to Be… You and Me” called “Thanks and Giving All Year Long” and she asked me to write a song for it. So I wrote a song called “I Want It.” The theme was about being thankful or about giving something and I wanted to acknowledge that when we’re young, maybe sharing is really hard and giving is hard until you realize that sharing can feel really good because of the connections that it brings about. So she sang that song along with the artist Uncle Kracker and recorded it for the project which I was so honored to be a part of. It was really exciting.

BG: You also are a children’s author! Your second book is called “Candy Cane Jane.” How did you become inspired to write children’s books? Was that a natural path to follow after writing songs?

LB: Yeah, it happened because I had an editor reach out to me after hearing some of my songs and they thought that some of my songs would make good picture books. The first one we did was “Victor Vido” and that was with Scholastic quite a number of years ago - “Victor Vido and the Story of My Feelings.” “Candy Cane Jane” is an eBook which was really fun to do. And then in the last few years, I teamed up with Simon and Schuster and we put out “We are the Dinosaurs” pillowland and monster books as picture books and audiobooks. It’s been a beautiful thing to be a part of the process to watch the illustrators take the lyrics and bring them to life visually. I love writing the songs but they gave them a full new life. I feel really lucky and I think there are some kids who really connect to the song more through the book or it’s just a more of an expansive way to experience it so I love it because it touches more kids that way.

BG: Can you tell us a bit about your bandmates?

LB: Sure, Susie’s been with me the longest, Susie Lampert. She’s on keyboards. She played with me on one of my first shows ever. For a long time, my husband, Brian Mueller, he was on bass until he decided that he wanted to go back to school for psychology and we also had our daughter and it was time for us to have a little bit of separateness in our lives because we were traveling and running the business together, performing together, it was constant. Now Brady Rymer’s on bass and vocals. He’s fantastic. He’s warm-hearted, loves kids, loves music, I mean, they’re all like this, He also has his own band - “Brady Rymer and The Little Band That Could.” They also perform childrens’ music. And then Bob Golden who is our drummer, he was the engineer who recorded our first big music show videos. He was so much fun to work with and when I found out that he was a drummer, he joined the band. He’s also fabulous and just very talented as well.

BG: Can you share your most fuzziest feel-good story that has happened with The Laurie Berkner Band so far? Fan story, etc…

LB: When we do “We Are The Dinosaurs” and I play the part in it when stop and we take a rest, I lie down on the stage and pretend to fall asleep and the kids have to wake me up. There was a two-year-old who had somehow made it onto the stage while I was lying there and was coming over and yelling at me to wake up. I didn’t know what was going on because my eyes were closed. Her parents couldn’t get to her because there were so many kids in front so Susie had to pick her up and say, “Who does this person belong to?” and finally she found the parents and all of this was happening while I had my eyes closed. And I believe the same little girl made her way to the stage another time. We couldn’t keep her down. She was so excited.

BG: You have a daughter named Lucy. What is Lucy’s favorite song of yours?

LB: She’s 14 now and I don’t really know what her favorite song is but when she very little I wrote a lullaby for her to help her fall asleep called “Your Beautiful Eyes.” It goes through the different parts of the body… “your beautiful eyes, do they feel heavy?” She would relax. When she heard the song on the album, I had added instruments and she said, “That’s not how that song goes. When you sang that song to me you always just sang it by yourself.” It almost sounded weird with the instruments added. It’s been a little while but she has asked me to sing it acapella to her so she can hear it that way again. So if I had to guess, that might be her favorite song.

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BG: We know that you’ve got lots of exciting things going on. Your songs can be heard on SirirusXM, Nick Jr., you’ve written songs for off-Broadway musicals. Any exciting new songs or touring information in particular that you’d like to share with us?

LB: Sure! I’m putting out a new album on October 4th called “Waiting for the Elevator.” A few of those songs I’ve already released over the last year of two. I was rolling them out as I wrote and recorded them but there will be a whole bunch on the album that are brand new. The whole album comes out on October 4th with lots of new and recent music that I’m excited for people to hear.

BG: Wonderful! Laurie, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about singing great music for children. We really appreciate it.

LB: Of course. Thank you so much!

Readers, don't forget to check out Laurie's websiteYouTube channelaudible series and stay tuned for her latest album "Waiting for the Elevator" which will be released on Oct. 4th. It's sure to be a real listening treat!

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